Synopses & Reviews
Set on Mallorca in the 1930s in the years leading up to World War II, it is the fictionalized account of the time spent there by author--writing as Vigoleis, his alter-ego--and his wife, Beatrice, lured to the island by Beatrice's dying brother, who, as it turns out not dying at all but broke and ensnared by the local prostitute. Pursued by both the Nazis and Spanish Francoists, Vigoleis and Beatrice embark on a series of the most unpredictable and surreal adventures in order to survive. Low on money, the couple seeks shelter in a brothel for the military, serves as tour guides to groups of German tourists, and befriends such literary figures Robert Graves and Harry Kessler, as well as the local community of smugglers, aristocrats, and exiled German Jews. Vigoleis with his inventor hat on even creates a self-inflating brassiere. Then the Spanish Civil War erupts, presenting new challenges to their escape plan. Throughout, Vigoleis is an irresistibly engaging narrator; by turns amusing, erudite, naughty, and always utterly entertaining. Drawing comparisons to Don Quixote and The Man Without Qualities, The Island of Second Sight is a novel of astonishing and singular richness of language and purpose; the story is picaresque, the voice ironic, the detail often hilarious, yet it is a work of profound seriousness, with an anti-war, anti-fascist, humanistic attitude at its core. With a style ranging from the philosophical to the grotesque, the colloquial to the arcane, The Island of Second Sight is a literary tour de force.
"First published in Germany in 1953, this epic, autobiographical tale of prewar Germans living abroad is a charming if exhausting blend of cultural self-examination and picaresque adventure. Thelen takes meta-fiction to extremes, mixing first-person confession and third-person narrative, beginning when Vigoleis (the author, thinly disguised) and Beatrice (Thelen's undisguised Swiss companion) travel from Amsterdam to Mallorca in 1931 to care for Beatrice's brother, Zwingli, who suffers not from some fatal disease but from his connection with the seductive, mercurial MarÃa del Pilar. Vigoleis and Beatrice soon find themselves hopelessly entangled in Zwingli's debt-riddled, filth-ridden downward spiral, eventually taking up residence in a brothel frequented by bullfighters. They support themselves by writing, translating, and serving as tour guides for the wealthy until even this hard-won existence is threatened by the Spanish Civil War and Hitler's expansion. What keeps such an anthology of misfortunes noteworthy after sixty years is its unique combination of comedy and meditation on everything from the pleasures of a tertulia to the horror of Nazi atrocities. Even when the author-narrator's observations prove overwhelming, his cultural insights, historical laments, literary references, and abundant wit make this first English translation (by Amherst professor White) and the book itself a literary achievement. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A genuine work of art." - Paul Celan
"A masterpiece." - Times Literary Supplement
"Worthy of a place alongside On the Marble Cliffs, Berlin Alexanderplatz, The Death of Virgil and other modernist German masterworks; a superb, sometimes troubling work of postwar fiction, deserving the widest possible audience." Kirkus Reviews,
"A charming if exhausting blend of cultural self-examination and picaresque adventure…Even when the author-narrator’s observations prove overwhelming, his cultural insights, historical laments, literary references, and abundant wit make this first English translation (by Amherst professor White) and the book itself a literary achievement." Publishers Weekly
"[A] brilliant novel…Readers will thank a gifted translator for finally making this masterpiece--acclaimed by Thomas Mann--available to English-speakers." Booklist, starred review
Unavailable to English readers for more than 50 years, The Island of Second Sight
is a literary tour de force, a Bolaño-esque sage of World War II. First published in Germany in 1953, it became a bestseller and has never been out of print. It is the fictionalized autobiography of the author and his wife’s years on Mallorca in the early 1930s. Low on money, they seek shelter in a brothel for bullfighters. Narrator Vigoleis is an inventor who doubles as a writer-secretary, and the couple befriends literary figures and Jews, they make enemies of the Nazis, and then the Spanish Civil War erupts, presenting new challenges to their escape plan.
Thelen is a wonderfully gifted narrator, with burlesque humor and a delightful cynicism. The Island of Second Sight, often compared to Don Quixote, is a vivacious, furious, and funny book that will enrich and surprise.
Winner of the PEN Translation Prize
Unavailable to English readers for more than 50 years, The Island of Second Sight is a masterpiece of world literature. Set in the years leading up to World War II, it is the fictionalized account of the time spent in Mallorca by the author and his wife, who encounter the most unpredictable and surreal adventures, pursued all the while by Nazis and Francoists. And just as the chaos comes to seem manageable, the Spanish Civil War erupts. Drawing comparisons to Don Quixote and The Man Without Qualities, The Island of Second Sight is a novel of astonishing and singular richness of language and purpose. At once ironic and humanistic, hilarious and profoundly serious, philosophical and grotesque, The Island of Second Sight is a literary tour de force.
Available for the first time in English, The Island of Second Sight is a masterpiece of world literature, first published in Germany in 1953 and hailed by Thomas Mann as "one of the greatest books of the twentieth century."
About the Author
Albert Vigoleis Thelen
(1903-1989) was a German writer and translator. During the rise of the Nazi regime, he lived on Mallorca with Beatrice Bruckner, whom he married in 1934. The Island of Second Sight
was awarded the Fontane Prize upon its first publication.
Donald O. White is a Professor of German at Amherst College.